Finding residential segregation in the Long Island suburbs

Long Island might be suburban New York but there are sharp racial divides across suburban communities:

Two villages, Hempstead and Garden City, lie adjacent to one another in Nassau County. Hempstead has a medium household income of $52,000. Garden City’s is $150,000. Hempstead, in parts, resembles an inner city—with bodegas, laundromats, low-rise apartment buildings. Garden City is a suburban idyll, with tree-lined streets, gourmet grocery stores, and large colonial-style homes. Garden City is 88 percent white; Hempstead is 92 percent black and Hispanic (split about evenly). The transition between the two villages occurs within one block, a visual whiplash. See for yourself. Travel up North Franklin Street on Google maps.

“Long Island is becoming more diverse, Nassau County is becoming more diverse,” says John Logan, a Brown University sociologist who has been studying demographics since the 1970s. “But within Nassau County there’s been hardly any change in the degree of segregation. The predominantly minority areas are becoming more minority. And the predominantly white areas are staying mostly white.”

That demographic story of Nassau County, Long Island, is the story of the nation’s suburbs at large. Zoom way out, and it looks like the suburbs are becoming more diverse—a welcomed reversal of the racist housing policies of the last century that kept minorities in the cities. But zoom in, block by block, and you see that within those suburbs, stark segregational divides like the one between Hempstead and Garden City still exist…

Here’s the one data point to make that case: When Logan controls for income, he finds that blacks and Hispanics who earn over $75,000 a year live in areas with higher poverty rates than whites who make less than $40,000.

This is an old and ongoing story. As numerous scholars have pointed out, one of the first mass suburbs in the United States, the Levittown on Long Island, refused to have black residents for years. And, even as more minorities have moved to the suburbs in recent decades, whites and minorities don’t always live in the same places.

Read more about sociologist John Logan’s findings regarding Separate and Unequal in Suburbia here.

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